Andrew the Apostle

Andrew the Apostle, the Patron Saint of Scotland

Ahead of St. Andrews Day on 30 November, Professor Donna Heddle, Director of the University of the Highlands and Islands Institute for Northern Studies gives us the lowdown on Scotland’s patron saint.

Who was he?

The name Andrew is Greek meaning “manly” and was popular across the Near East. The New Testament (Luke 6: 14) tells us that Andrew was the brother of Simon Peter.  He was born in the village of Bethsaida and, along with his brother, was a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, giving rise to the tradition that Jesus called them as disciples by saying that he would make them “fishers of men” (Matt 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20).

Andrew, the first called, was clearly an elder stateman among the apostles – he appears on many important occasions such as the Last Supper. For example and very fittingly, it is Andrew who tells Jesus about the boy with the loaves and fishes (John 6:8), and when Philip wanted to tell Jesus about certain Greeks searching for Him (John 12:20-22)., he consulted Andrew first.

St. Andrew’s cross

Andrew is believed to have been martyred by crucifixion at the city of Patras in Achaea, on the northern coast of the Peloponnese. Andrew is depicted as bound, not nailed, to the same kind of cross on which Jesus was crucified in early texts, such as the Acts of Andrew known to Gregory of Tours. The prevailing tradition today is that he was crucified, by his own request as not worthy of the same fate as Jesus, on an X-shaped cross, or “saltire” (crux decussata).

Where is he buried?

Andrew’s remains were kept in the first instance at the Basilica of St Andrew in Patras, Greece. Most of his remains were removed from Patras to Constantinople in circa 357 at the instigation of the Roman emperor Constantius II and placed in the Church of the Holy Apostles. From there, relics of Andrew travelled the world and you can find them now in the Duomo di Sant’Andrea, Amalfi, Italy; St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland; and the Church of St Andrew and St Albert, Warsaw, Poland. There are also numerous smaller reliquaries throughout the world.

Andrew in Scotland

Traditional sources tell us that a monk in Patras, St Regulus or Rule, had a dream in which he was told to take the relics of Andrew to the ends of the earth. St. Regulus set sail, taking with him a kneecap, an upper arm bone, three fingers and a tooth. He sailed west as far as he could and was shipwrecked on the coast of Fife where St Andrews was founded. In reality, it is likely that they came to Britain in 597 as part of the Augustine Mission, and then in 732 to Fife, by Bishop Acca of Hexham. The great church of St Andrews was erected on a site previously dedicated to St Regulus so that may be where the connection comes from.

Andrew becomes our patron saint

Andrew became our patron saint, sources such as Bower’s Scotichronicon tell us, in 832 AD when Óengus II (Angus mac Fergus) led an army of Picts and Scots into battle against the Angles led by Æthelstan near modern-day Athelstaneford in East Lothian. Óengus was very much outnumbered and on the back foot so the night before the battle he prayed to St Andrew, who was a very senior figure in Christian belief. and swore that he would make Andrew the patron saint of Scotland if he won the battle next day. It was said that, on the morning of the battle, white clouds formed a St Andrew’s cross or Saltire in the sky and this sign emboldened the Scottish forces to victory and Óengus duly credited the victory and gave the role of patron saint to Andrew. Our flag, which may well be the oldest national flag in the world, represents the white saltire against the blue sky – and so should never be navy blue! Many flags throughout history contain the St Andrew’s cross  – the Confederate flag and that of Jamaica, for example.

Anything else to know?

Andrew is clearly a top class patron saint and in demand. He is the patron saint of several countries –  Barbados, Romania, Russia, Scotland and Ukraine –  and of several cities including many in Spain, Amalfi in Italy, Esgueira in Portugal, Luqa in Malta, Parañaque in the Philippines and of course Patras in Greece.

His brother Peter is considered the founder of the Church of Rome but Andrew is considered the founder of Church of Byzantium and is therefore the patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

And finally

If you would like to find out more about Scotland, why not join us on the brand new MLitt Scottish Heritage at the University of the Highlands and Islands, led by Donna, which you can study from anywhere in the world!

Donna’s research interests are Scottish and Northern Isles cultural history, renaissance language and literature, and cultural tourism.


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